Category Archives: Sermon Archives

Easter 5A: I will prepare a place. (The Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Hospitals are often busy and noisy places…

all around people are moving, often quickly,

announcements can be heard overhead,

incessant beeping,

blaring alarms…

the hustle and bustle never seems to stop….

unless you find yourself into the NICU….or neonatal intensive care unit, like I did a year ago today….

At 3:30 am, after the babies have been fed and tended to,

they get tucked back into their little isolettes (incubators),

the lights are dimmed,

the nurses sit down and begin their charting….

the silence is pierced only

-by an occasional warning beep of an oxygen monitor

-the musical melody of a completed feed, by the feeding tube

-or the muffled whimper of a little one trying to get back to sleep

In this space….in this calmness…

While I sit in my rocker with a wrinkly, wriggly 8 week old laying square on my chest, hung-over on milk and tucked warmly under the hospital blankets that somehow exude the inescapable smell of maple syrup

….there is a peace which passes all understanding….

….a peace which took weeks for me to uncover in this place that so many parents worst nightmares come true.

….a place where what is often people’s happiest days of their life takes a bitter turn into a world of worry, uncertainty and heartbreak….

Surrounded by this overwhelming sense of peace…

I sat there and rocked in my chair…trying to take it all in.…..

then the pagers started going off….

and the nurses once at their computer terminals quickly jumped to their feet….

-they seemed to work almost in silence as they whizzed around the NICU….

– members of the advanced life saving team, begin to cover their navy scrubs with pull on protective gear, hair caps, and booties…

-the panda,also known as the emergency isolette, is being prepped for transport, checked and double checked, the nurse gives a thumbs up and is promptly pushed beyond the double doors by the nurses dressed  head to toe in light blue disposable gear making them appear like something from out of this world.

       -iv tubing is being cleaned and double checked

-Prescriptions are put on standby

-a surgical cart is being prepped

-ex ray machines are called in

-the heat in the incubator is turned up

-doctors start arriving

– with a sense of urgency but also an overwhelming sense of calm …everyone gets to work

I had seen this scene dozen’s of times since we first arrived weeks ago…
but this time…
this time… was different….

this time my mind wandered…..and all I could hear was this passage from John’s Gospel we heard today…. “do not let your hearts be troubled…….believe in God….believe also in me.”

It was the first-time God felt present in the midst of what had been weeks of pain, uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness…and the message was one of pure comfort….

But it was something far greater than just regular comfort.

It was as if for the first time I had received clarity about the immeasurable and unfathomable love of God that John was trying so hard to articulate, in these final moments of Jesus’ life.

Because the passage we heard today is one of the options for funeral readings, it is one I am quite familiar with, have researched and have attempted to preach on dozens of times, and yet THIS was the first time I really — felt like I understood it

After the foot washing, after breaking bread with his disciples one last time, after the departure of Judas…. Jesus’s words attempt to provide comfort to the confused and lost disciples….for only he knows the entirety of what is to transpire  in the days and weeks to come.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

While Jesus attempts to assuage the disciples’ fears, Thomas and Philip continue to be troubled…their questions reveal an almost palpable sense of anxiety.

Anxiety about being left behind.

Anxiety about loosing their beloved friend once and for all.

And yet Jesus asks them to simply trust him, pointing out what he thinks is obvious, that he and the Father — God are one…..reminding them, as John’s Gospel often does, that from the very beginning….. God changed God’s relationship with humanity once and for all, by having made Jesus incarnate… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Through this great incarnation….through his birth…life as we know it changed forever.

As preparations continued to take place all around me I realized that this is the Gospel message…in this preparation lies the hope of the resurrection…..that ultimately a place is being prepared for us, that Jesus will take us with him to that final resting place.

Before this moment I THOUGHT the hope lied in knowing Jesus was taking us with him…..but the real hope and beauty of the passage unraveled before my very eyes as all these nurses and doctors gingerly prepared the way to welcome this new fragile life into the NICU.

The promise IS eternal life….but the immense love that God shows to God’s people IS in the preparation….

I imagine that Jesus’ promise to go ahead of the disciples, to prepare a place for them…to prepare a place for us…. looks a lot like the calm yet calculated care that the NICU team takes to prepare a place for a new baby.

Sometimes they would get three or four  even five false alarms…. before it was actually time…. but they responded with the same love and care and painstaking preparation each and every time…. seemingly not out of obligation….but out a deep sense of vocation and pure privilege, because that’s what it takes to be responsible for ushering new life into the world in safety….and that is the ridiculously unfathomable love that Christ attempts to explain to his disciples, before his departure…..

There will be a place for you….I will prepare it….there is room for all.

As I continued to sit there, listening to his little labored breaths up and down, down and up, as he lay on my chest and seeing the doctors work on the little 910 gram girl next to us glowing bright red under the warmth of the heat lamp…..I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder knowing that when my own son was born…..

they must have taken just as good care of him….

that they had likely spent all day and several days eagerly anticipating his arrival, for long before he came screaming into the world there were several false alarms.

 

But knowing that they were prepared to receive him….

provided me with an overwhelming sense of comfort that I had not encountered in this sterile space.  Knowing that they must have cared for him the same way they cared for this little girl.

They knew he was coming here before I did.
They were ready when I was not.
They got to see his face and touch him before I could.

The little girl was quickly overcome by doctors, x-ray machines, respiratory therapists

each person carrying out their specific role

each person completing the tasks they are called to do, with very little need to communicate with one another….they cautiously and quickly go to work on the little girl

– her father looked on wide eyed in wonder and yet full of confusion at his perfect pint sized princess is poked and prodded.

And all I can think…is “do not let your hearts be troubled…believe in God”….

if only he knew how much preparation had gone in to making a place for her….

He would believe.

He would trust.

He would know that no matter what….everything will be ok….

His dashed hope would be restored.

In this place…in this moment –sterile space transformed to sacred space…and as I sat there in prayer…

I realized the perfection of God’s plan and faithful preparations….

Even though I struggle SO HARD with wanting things my way and on my terms.

On this Mother’s Day, like all Mother’s Days — many grieve for what has been or has not been, for mother’s lost and mother’s never known, for empty arms and arms too full, for mom’s that could keep it together and mom’s that fell and fall apart.  And yet others celebrate with joy and gratitude their children known and yet to be fully known…..

The tension of anxiety and hope of love and joy wrap this day up with a very, very tight bow, making it almost impossible to undo.  And yet the confluence of this fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s day and an assigned Gospel text fit for a funeral, that also can call to mind that new life, that life eternal, that shines as a bright light in the midst of darkness is both ironic and ultimately fitting.

For ultimately it is in God’s loving arms that we will all come to rest from our labors.

It is here where she has prepared a space for us….

it is here where she will nurture us….

It is here where we will be brought to new life.

 

 

 

Tolkien, Matthew & Baptism

Most people become claustrophobic just at the thought of entering a long, narrow, dark tunnel—so imagine being stranded within a section of a tunnel deep within a mountain. Dampness hanging about you. And as you venture to move forward in the pitch dark, instead of finding solid ground, your foot steps into a pool of icy cold water. That little splash in fact marks the edge of a great underground lake. It is here, deep under the earth on the edge of a deadly cold body of water, that the reader eventually encounters the grotesque slimy creature named Gollum.

As J.R.R. Tolkien narrates the story it is the not-so-willing adventurer Bilbo Baggins, who finds himself alone in a tunnel, separated from his Companions. And it is Bilbo’s foot that discovered the lake edge. And as in any good Adventure story, after escaping from the clutches of horrible goblins, Bilbo, now alone in the tunnel, at the edge of an underground lake, is about to face a new challenge.

From an outpost upon a slimy island of rock, out in the middle of that same cold dark lake, Gollum heard the splash of water. With his two big round pale eyes in his thin face Gollum could see Bilbo across the lake. Described as “dark as the darkness itself” without making a sound Gollum gets into his little boat and silently paddles towards Bilbo, his large feet dangling over the side, heading toward the unsuspecting Bilbo. Gollum got his name from the horrible gurgling noise made in his throat when he spoke, and Gollum would normally think nothing of sneaking up behind a stray goblin, or in this case a hobbit, and strangling them in cold blood to provide a tasty meal.

For those of you who have read the book The Hobbit which is a prelude of sorts to the Lord of the Rings, trilogy, this encounter between Bilbo and Gollum sets the stage for the great drama that takes the rest of the trilogy to unfold. For in this meeting, one learns that Gollum has been the finder and custodian of a ring so powerful—that it corrupts anyone who wears it.

In Gollum, Bilbo encounters a creature that was once a hobbit like himself; Yet, as a result of being subjected to centuries of the corroding influence of the ring, Gollum is almost unrecognizable—the ring has twisted both his Hobbit body and mind in grotesque ways. The only thing that saves Bilbo in this unexpected meeting, is that Gollum has lost the ring, and he wonders if Bilbo might have found it.

In literature, a good villain or foe is not easy to conceive and execute—and one of the examples of why The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are able to transcend the label of mere “escapist fantasy” can be found by examining the complexity of the character of Gollum. In Gollum readers encounter a repulsive creature capable of horrible deeds and yet that reality is tempered by Tolkien who eventually provides the knowledge that Gollum was once a ordinary hobbit. That there was, and perhaps still is, a goodness deep within Gollum that has been buried.

Without specifically talking about Theology, Tolkien effectively supplies the reader with the notion that Gollum might indeed have been created with an inherent goodness. A Christian might put it as—created in God’s image—with the observation that aspects of life can combine and converge in such a way that the original goodness is all but covered up.

Much further into the saga of The Lord of the Rings, when a Bilbo’s son Frodo suggests that perhaps they all would be better off if Bilbo had just done away with Gollum when he had the chance back in that very first encounter—it is Gandalf, the wise wizard, who Observes that: perhaps for Gollum—all is not lost—that there yet may be a role for him to play in their mission against the powers of darkness.

In the first century, in the region of Galilee, at the tax-booth near the sea—it would have been difficult to find a more despised and hated man than Matthew, the tax collector. Tax collectors were sell-outs. Roman sympathizers. Betrayers of the Hebrew people, they were willing to sell friends, family and neighbors, down the river—causing real pain and financial hardship. As a religious Jew, suffering under Roman occupation, to befriend Matthew would be akin to saying you were disowning your family and casting your lot with the worst of the wretched. And yet, in this morning’s Gospel we are given a scene where Jesus, while walking along, sees Matthew at his tax booth—and it seems almost casually that he offers an invitation: Follow Me.

Follow Me!? If there were any crowds around, that simple invitation would be like tossing a live grenade into the center the gathering. The text tell us that the Pharisees were appalled—but this action by Jesus would certainly also have stunned Andrew, Peter, James and John—the hardworking fisherman who were the first to respond to the invitation of Jesus when he said Follow Me. That Jesus was willing to invite: a known sell-out, a professional sinner, Our Patron Saint!, must have seemed unfathomable to his followers. And yet the fact that, upon seeing Matthew, knowing all about his livelihood, the horrible opinions that others held against him—knowing all this—and that Jesus still reached out and invited Matthew—-WELL, IT MUST TELL US, It Must Point us Towards—something profound about the way that followers of Jesus are invited to look at the world—The way that we are invited to look at and behold one another.

Where others looked and saw only a despised tax-collector—somehow Jesus was able to see beyond all the things wrong with Matthew—and grasp the beauty and goodness of his inner being. If Matthew were a portrait of a fractured and broken individual—then Jesus managed to see the light shining through the cracks, and Jesus was willing to include Matthew knowing that fellowship with followers passionate for love and fellowship with God and one another had the power to transform Matthew’s life.

This morning we have a Baptism, and it seems to me one of the significant aspects of having a Baptism on this day, The Feast of St. Matthew, is that we make explicit what Jesus implied in his call of Matthew so long ago—that each of us Come into the world created in the Image of God bearing the indelible mark of our creator’s goodness—and that Nothing can ever change that basic fact. Sure it is true that in the course of life we may make mistakes, and that things happen to us that can partially cover-up or obscure that image of goodness, but baptism reminds that that we are ever God’s own—called to a lifelong relationship with God.

Today, our ancient ritual of baptism with water and our invocation of the Holy Spirit, will initiate Sidney into a formal relationship with God and with this congregation, the gathered people of God. And together we will affirm that nothing will ever be able to break the bond of being a valued child of God with unique gifts to share with the world.

As each of us grow, we inevitably make mistakes, missteps in the wrong direction. Perhaps even there has been a time in your life that has resembled flowing a path into a darkening tunnel. A time of uncertainty and doubt. Some have experienced times where reality itself seems twisted around, with the goodness of life distorted and barely recognizable. The exciting part of this Day, a Day with a Baptism on the Feast of St. Matthew is that it reminds us that no matter how difficult or tough is our journey—we can never reach a place beyond the reach of the loving embrace of God. That our lives are never severed from the possibility of transformation and new growth. By extension, this is the good news of the Gospel that we can share with family, friends and our larger community

In the our life journey, we are unlikely to meet characters as lost or as desperate as Gollum, or shunned to the extent of Matthew the tax collector, but we will undoubtedly encounter individuals who have to some lesser extent lost their way. Sometimes it may even be ourselves who have gone off course. And In each case, this day reminds us that Jesus ever extends an invitation—that a new future is always possible, and will open up for us when we respond to the simple invitation to follow me.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 18 September 2016, The Feast of Saint Matthew and the occasion of the baptism of Sidney Thomas Hills. Lessons: Proverbs 3:1-6; Psalm 119:33-40; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Matthew 9:9-13.

Proper 15C: Relationship Trouble (Rev. Lindsay Hills)

When I was in junior high, the bishop came to our school. It was an important day for us…..and in my small world, he might as well have been the Pope. We had formal dress uniform that day, and were reminded to be on our best behavior. We were assured it would be mutually beneficial for us if we behaved, because ONLY the Bishop was allowed to issue days off from school. It had been rumored that if we behaved we would get Friday off!

We gathered for Eucharist, and when he preached my attention piqued when he told us he was going to teach us how to pray.

Eager to learn the secret of how to communicate to God, I hung on his every word

For better or worse some 25 years later its one of the few sermons that remains etched in my brain.

The sternness and confidence with which he delivered his directive sermon became my instruction manual for prayer… terrified that God wouldn’t hear me if I “did it wrong” I became obsessed with following the directions he outlined for us to the T….

His guidance was helpful, in that it helped me to think more critically about prayer and how I did it. But largely his words became a kin to a shackle tethering me down and not allowing me to explore the breath of prayer, the types of prayer, or develop my own way of talking to and with God…

Every time I encounter the psalms….I think NOW these people know how to pray or talk to God.

They aren’t afraid to tell God how they feel…aren’t afraid to get angry, to be vulnerable, to admit their own mistakes, to ask for forgiveness, or to offer thanksgiving. The psalms cover the breadth of human yearning, prayers for all times and all occasions, reflecting the true diversity of our hearts.

This Sunday, we recited portions of Psalm 80.

A psalm of lament, “a passionate expression of grief and sorrow”[1]….the heart of the psalmist is poured out in prose….beginning with a plea to God, almost in desperation…

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,” listen to us God, please listen to us….

This is followed by a portion of the psalm we did not hear this morning, a portion where we hear of a people desperate to be restored, longing to be saved….

For it continues:

3  

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

 
4 O LORD God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?
 
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
 
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

(psalm 80:3-7, Book of Common Prayer — Psalter)

We hear first hand a people that feel betrayed, forgotten, dismissed by their God…

a people trying to understand why God has left them….despite their prayers.

a people who have become the laughing stock of their neighbors and enemies…

a people who at times we can relate to, probably all to well….

The psalmist continues, by outlining all the amazing things God has done for them, with thanksgiving…..they continue to pray….

Thankful that God has taken them out of Egypt, as a tender vine, in need of replanting….and God’s amazing self …

replants them,

cares for them,

protects them….

taking the time to build them up and allowing them to flourish.

For it is only through the nurturing power of God that a once small vine can stretch its tendrils out to the Sea and its branches t the River.

This is the God of blessing,
the God of abundance,
the God of Love….

Their prayer of lament continues, as they wrestle with how this God they know and love could turn their back on them. how a God that once loved them and cared for them so deeply, could then make them vulnerable to attack and allow them to be devoured.

In an interesting turn of events near the end of the psalm, the people boldly demand that God REPENT….for what God has done to them…. ”Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine…..preserve what your right hand has planted.”

A final plea for God to change God’s ways and remain in relationship with them

Its almost as if they had prayed……

O God, you are amazing, listen to all the amazing things you have done.

We said we are sorry, please be in relationship with us again. We miss you.

Why did you let all these bad things happen to us.

You should say your sorry for the bad things you did.

Please make it right. We are waiting.

How refreshing.

 

-How often have you yearned to say those things to God, but perhaps felt unable to,

-or wanted to be angry at God for abandoning you in a moment of great need, but felt like to be angry at God was bad or sinful….

-or in the face of daily tragedy around the world, gotten wrapped up in the everyday lament of why God allows bad things to happen to good people….

 

In so many ways the psalmist offers language that many of our hearts have struggled to express….

And yet, while it is indeed a psalm of lament it is simultaneously a psalm of hope.

The people ask how long, how long will God turn away from them….knowing that even though they may feel estranged, God nevertheless continues to listen to God’s people, or else there would be no need to offer a public lament in the first place, no need to ask God to turn back, if they really felt that God had truly left them.

It has never crossed my mind to demand an apology from God, and yet the brazen psalmist does. Through the psalmists’ plea for God to “turn again,” or repent, and look with favor on the people once more, we see a God whose fundamental being is intimately tied to relationship. And to be in relationship calls for continual adjustment, recalibration, and evaluation…. [2] Relationships come with joy and sadness. They demand give and take, and reciprocity. A reciprocity that requires a commitment to continued conversation even when we feel betrayed or abandoned, angry or mad….a conversation that we are reminded today is rooted in prayer….

After struggling with prayer for sometime, my spiritual director reminded me that prayer….is something we practice….like anything else in our lives its not something that we do flawlessly, or comes without its challenges, or that we are even naturally good at…its something that requires our attention and faithfulness, and like all things we practice— we only get better over time….

It doesn’t have to be the right prayer…or the perfect prayer…just faithful prayer.

Prayer is not how often we sit down with our hands crossed and eyes closed —-but more about intentionally engaging with our God.

It’s not about the words we say aloud ——but how they dance in our hearts…

Its about entering into the relationship with the holy on a regular basis…so that when times get tough we can echo the lament of the psalmist….and say to God….”what?” “why?” but more importantly — “How long?”

As Christians we know relationship….

relationship is made known to us through the incarnation, through the mystery of the holy trinity, and through the communion of saints.

And like all relationships we know first hand that they have their challenges….

The psalmist offers us more then desperation and lament….

the psalmist reminds us of the hope…a hope that only comes with being in relationship with one another and with God.

And it is that hope that reverberates through the end of the psalm, that even though times are tough, even though they may be angry and sad, they choose to stay in relationship …promising to never turn away from God, vowing to continue to “call on God’s name.” And as they let out their final request, their final prayer they do just that, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts,” show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

The is the challenge offered to us this morning….that regardless of our struggles or disillusionment with God….that we too might remain in relationship with the holy….because God wants nothing more than to be in relationship with each and every one of us.

 

 


[1] Google search “Lament” Available at: https://www.google.com/search?q=lament&oq=lament&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j0l5.751j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[2] Nancy Koester, Working Preacher, Commentary on Psalm 80:70-15. Available online at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2174

Imagine—A Vision of God’s Kingdom

Imagine there’s no heaven….

It’s the opening lyric of a song that ventures to reflect upon and imagine a better world. 

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

And so the song makes a start at pealing away religious imagery—beginning a critique of traditional belief that reaches a fuller development in the second stanza.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

 From where we stand today, 36 years after the death of John Lennon, the songwriters words seem particularly poignant. While one marvels at the beauty of the spectacle of the parade of the athletes at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Rio—the gathering of the nations also contains a reminder of the divisions that plague us around the world. We live with the awareness that fresh conflict could erupt in the Middle East—or that tensions between Russia and the Ukraine could continue to escalate—or that China’s oceanic land claims could become problematic. These and a dozen other scenarios could prompt one to lament of the destructive aspects of nationalism, that seem to thwart a peaceful future. And the line

Nothing to kill or die for
and no religion too

reminds us of the way that religion can combine with political ideology to produce a deadly cocktail of hate and violence—as we are acutely aware in the cases of al Qaeda and ISIS.

Because some of the lyrics of the song Imagine seem to negate religious belief—many were led to conclude that Lennon had become an atheist and was antagonistic towards religion. Most of us have had the experience of our religion and faith posing some measure of challenge—either towards our understanding or the exercise of faith.

A quick look at this morning’s gospel poses several challenges. Are we for example—really convinced that we should sell all our possessions and distribute the resulting heap of cash to those who have even less? Or are we actually prepared to remain in a state of constant vigilance for the apparent coming end of times—at an unexpected hour as the teaching of this morning’s gospel indicates? And probing the gospel even further are we really comfortable with a text that has an example that seems to be comfortable with the institution of slavery as a backdrop for making a point about being ready to encounter God? On the road for developing a mature faith the thinking person encounters many challenges—and sometimes, when the going becomes difficult, one can be tempted to toss the whole religious venture aside. And so one of the challenges for organized religion—is to resist the temptation to present a simple faith that requires little investment of time and little thought—and instead promote an active faith engaging the complexity and paradox of the modern world—ultimately pointing toward a transcendent God.

Coming at the challenge of engaging with the Christian faith from a helpful direction, the Christian contemplative, Richard Rohr, wonders how do we deal with the Inherent Unmarketability of the Christian Faith. He asks: “How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess? How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture? How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind set? And how do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?”

As a person who practices contemplation Rohr observes that in the fast pace of the world—moving from one activity to the next—life can look and feel like we are on the edge of a non stop merry-go-round—where we have lost the ability to ever find the quiet, stable and secure center. And it is at this point, almost worn out by the velocity of living, that some begin to wonder if they have missed something significant in the realm of Religious life. This is the experience says Rohr, that opens the door for a fresh exploration (perhaps again for the very first time) of the deep roots of Christian spirituality and prayer.

You may find it interesting to know that John Lennon grew up attending his local Anglican church. He went to Sunday School, was a chorister and was active in the youth group. Beatle fans will be amused to learn that in the cemetery that surrounded Lennon’s parish church there was a tombstone with the name Eleanor Rigby. After confirmation, as Lennon entered young adulthood and drifted away from regular worship—it would be a mistake too say that he became non-religious. Most artists are keen observers of the world and like the religious mystics—Lennon often invites a deeper contemplation of the world and our place in it.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

Wait a minute—that’s what Jesus said

No need for Greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Again the deeply religious thoughts of Jesus and the Gospel. It’s as if we need these images—endangered of being lost or swallowed up—they find a way to bubble back to the surface to register deep within our psyche—allowing us to search and to press on for deeper connections with God and our fellow humans.

Religious people are shaped by images. They point to a new reality. By letting go of possessions Jesus was attempting to point to establishing new relationships—unburdened by who owns what. In pointing to the end of times, Jesus ventured to have his followers savor every moment and fill every human encounter with meaning. By having the owner of the house return only to invite the servants to sit and eat while being served by their master—was to undermine, and effectively begin to overturn the whole notion of slavery. Deeper religious thought and engagement begins when we stop     to reflect upon God and our place in the world.

On one level, over these past few days, we simply started watching a series of athletic contests unfolding in Brazil in the midst of a predictable list of problems and setbacks. The cynic can sit back and declare what a waste of time and resources. And yet at another level, gathering the nations of the world together to participate in a common event is a great feat of the imagination, and it plants the notion in the recesses of the mind that if this is possible—so are perhaps many other things that we currently think are unattainable.

Jesus did not coin the phrase Your God is too small, yetit is a fitting phrase, for Jesus invited his followers to dream about a better future and to invest in relationships; to spend time getting to know one another and to know God. Jesus reminds us that prayer and reflection is not wasted effort. Rather, He Announces that it is a deeply religious activity seeking to be an active participant in better world—ultimately bringing to life a vision of God’s kingdom that is only limited by the depths of our imagination.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on 7 August 2016, The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C. Lessons: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40.

Transfiguration, The Super Bowl, & Change (The Rev. Eric Hinds)

Imagine walking—ticket in hand towards a stadium that holds over 70,000 people. Imagine the challenge just getting there!   Everyone is dressed for a spectacle. Long forgotten are the concerns about financing the stadium, or the length of time for the construction. An event of super natural proportions will put the entire region on the map.

Once at the stadium you can feast upon a wide variety of cakes, pastries, dates, sweetmeats, and generous cups of wine—all served by handsome stewards passing through the crowds. If the sun gets too hot you will be shielded from the sun by means an enormous awning drawn to provide shade. Imagine: 300 tons of iron used in the construction; 100,000 cubic meters of Travertine stone.

In the year, 80 AD, with ticket in hand, you too could gain admission to the Roman Colosseum for the inaugural 100 days of games, which featured a parade, gladiator battles, wild hunts, and animal fights. Admittedly entertainment much more brutal that today’s Super Bowl contest between two football teams—but it was a show that filled the Colosseum to capacity and left crowds wanting more.

By comparison, Levi Stadium, the site of today’s big game, is billed as the most technologically advanced arena for sporting and other events. The $1.2 billion structure is LEED gold certified with a green living roof, and Wi-Fi throughout the stadium. Fans are able to order food and drink during the game via a mobile app. and have their exact order delivered to their seat. A 200 foot wide HD screen in the stadium provides instant replay for fans to review game highlights, and almost every space has multiple TV screens to ensure that no one misses a single game moment.

Knowing our joy and delight in all the features of modern technology—-I wonder if anyone attending those inaugural games at the Roman Colosseum could have imagined anything better or more advanced? I rather imagine an awed spectator turing to their host and saying at those ancient games something like Peter said to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel “Gee this experience is so great—let’s try to preserve it for all time for I can not imagine anything better.” or perhaps simply “Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this!”

And a statement like that should always give us pause for thought—for history shows us that few of us would ever really like, when it comes down to it, to be frozen in time. The brutal violence of the first century, spectators watching gladiators fight to the death, and animals being slain for sport, are the least of the problems with a first century version of the good old days.

Unlike today’s Super Bowl, which takes a free market approach to seating, in the world of the Colosseum there was strict seating policy distinguishable by both class and dress. Roman senators sat within the 1st tier of the stadium. Members of the nobel class sat within the second. Ordinary Roman citizens sat in the third tier, which was further divided into the wealthy and poor sections. Common women were relegated to the nosebleed section, relegated to the upper tier. Except for combatants, slaves were strictly forbidden from the Colosseum. Although construction of the Colosseum began about 40 years after the death of Jesus—-this was the Roman society with which Jesus was familiar. A rigid and often brutal hierarchical society that lived off the underclass. A society where the many, were in service to the few.

We encounter this morning’s gospel text just before the start of the season of Lent each year, and it comes as a kind of reminder that it is easy for religious people to become used to the way things are and even become complacent. In this mornings Gospel, we see that even after Peter, James, and John share an intense experience, a revelation of sorts about who Jesus is—and Peter desperately wanting to hang on that experience, to preserve it—it is Jesus who points his three disciples forward. Forward towards the Journey and discovery ahead. He refuses to dwell in the past.

And thank goodness Jesus moved on. Not only did Jesus move forward, but others continued to add to the work and ministry of Jesus. His disciples continued the proclamation of a Gospel of transformation and love. They continued his ministry of healing, as the movement we know as Christianity began to spread. The Apostle Paul opened up the mission of Jesus to the gentiles—a stunning development! And so one can see why Jesus had a sense of not wanting to dwell in the past, but to move forward.

Unfortunately, the liberating work of Jesus in welcoming women to share in his ministry was a window that would close by the end of the 2nd century. This was a setback one could argue that we, as the church, are only just now really beginning to set right these two millennia later. Likewise, it took people of faith a long time to wrestle with the often overlapping issues of slavery and race, let alone address issues of reproduction or sexual identity.

Today we are at a time and place where many in the church want to hold on to those things and those patterns that have been successful in the past—and in light of this morning’s lesson we might wonder whether Jesus would indulge our stopping to remain in the same place, or whether Jesus would have us move on looking for the next emerging area of ministry.

In a provocative article, ChristianWeek columnist, Carey Nieuwhof, makes ten predictions about the future of the Christian Church and shifting attendance patterns. I have selected five this morning that I think are worth our contemplation. Carey’s second point, I will give first as it is perhaps the most provocative. It is simply “Churches that love their Model MORE than their Mission—Will Die.” “We live in a changing world” observes Carey “and just about every industry has had to change. It would be a strange world indeed if the church did not have to change in some ways as well.” Another way of making this same observation is by asking the question “What are the seven words of a dying Church?” The answer that should give us pause for thought is: We never did it that way before!

If Carey’s second prediction seems too pessimistic—then his first prediction is positive and forward looking. He observes “As despairing or as cynical as some might be (sometimes understandably) over the church’s future, we have to remind ourselves that the church was Jesus’ idea, not ours.” He goes on to predict that It [The Church] will survive our missteps and whatever cultural trends happen around us. We certainly don’t always get things right, but Christ has an incredible history of pulling together Christians in every generation to share his love for a broken world. A point both simply stated and encouraging!

Prediction Three: The Gathered Church—is here to stay. We may have to discover different patterns and our gatherings may look different than they do today, but at its heart Christianity is a communal Venture. Carey affirms that Christians “will always gather together to do more than we ever could on our own.” To which I might add that: In the midst of a society where people increasingly feel isolated from one another—the body that gathers in Christ’s name has a unique role to play in knitting people together into a community that lives for more than itself. A community that provides a sense of meaning and belonging.

Prediction Four: The Online Church—and Online Ministries will supplement individual religious Journeys, but they will never replace actual gatherings and time spent in community. This is in a way similar to observations about online dating. While the internet may have an increasing importance and significance in the way that people find one another and interact—ultimately people desire face to face interactions and community rather than sustained isolation.

Prediction 5—I might say is actually a Challenge. “Simplified ministries will complement people’s lives, not compete with people’s lives.”(repeat) Here it is worth quoting Carey Nieuwhof at length He observes: For years, the assumption has been that the more a church grew, the more activity it would offer. The challenge, of course, is that church can easily end up burning people out. In some cases, people end up with no life except church life. Some churches offer so many programs for families that families don’t even have a chance to be families. The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world. Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people’s witness, not compete with people’s witness.

This Friday and Saturday your Vestry spent time together, planning and contemplating the future of our Church. It is clear to us that we are in the midst of changing times. In the midst of challenging times. In the midst of exciting times. We are on a Journey together. As we move forward as a parish it will take the gathered wisdom, the collective insights, and assembled energy of our entire community to discern how our future will unfold together. As tempting as it would be to stay at the mountaintop, preserving a moment in time. The Good news of the Gospel today—the exciting news for us is that—our collective future lies in letting Jesus lead us forward. Both, re-affirming old truths, and discovering new ways to be the church in this community for one another and for the larger world. It will at times I’m sure, be a journey of anxiety and challenge, but it’s a journey that we will be on together.

Sermon preached at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on 7 February 2016, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Transfiguration and Super Bowl Sunday), Year C. Lessons: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4.2; Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a).

Pentecost 6B: Jesus – Just in Case

Every time I hear this passage from Mark, I think back to my Spiritual Director in Philadelphia…. We had a love/hate relationship (at least on my end)….she taught me a lot but I probably would have heard her better had she not been so direct and confrontational. But when I told her I was moving and I was trying to figure out which moving company to use and what I needed to bring. She responded a bit callously in my opinion, “you don’t need a moving company. Just sell it all, leave it all behind.”

I left angry and mad….and figured I would never see her again….so there.

What I realized…is that her response to me was simply more than I could process in my naieve youth, in my pridefulness….. in my stressed out state of uncertainty

I had spent the three years prior to seminary in joyful accumulation of stuff.

What’s more is….working at Crate and Barrel, accumulation of nice stuff. ….I’ll be the first to admit that some of it I “needed” and some of it I’m sure I didn’t “need.”

But the reality is that how hard I had worked to get where I was, to acquire what I had…..got in the way of me being able to hear what my spiritual director was saying….what Jesus was saying….

—-

“he ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics….” (Mark 6:8)

Huh? Are you serious?? Give the man some water, he must be dehydrated…he’s going mad….

I’d like to think that if I was a disciple and was there,

I would have listened to every single word of Jesus,

and did just what he asked…..

But given my track record of abandoning my possessions, or rather, not abandoning my possessions, I am fairly certain that if I was one of the twelve….and I was there in Nazareth….and I had just seen Jesus’ rejection, in, of all places, his very own hometown…..and saw the grumbling crowds, gossiping about the “carpenter”….and his failure to convince the crowds…..

the very last thing I would have done….was follow him….

And yet the disciples went off two by two. On their way….to preach repentance, cast out demons, and anoint the sick with oil. They had a clear sense from Jesus “welcome” in Nazareth what they were in for…..and yet they went on their way regardless…..

They responded, by what can only be described as faith.

An unbridled faith in God.

Faith that Jesus was more than a crazy carpenter.

Because

Only faith…..could lead someone to sacrifice the way they sacrificed…
Only faith….could subside their worries about what they would wear or where they would sleep
Only faith….could calm their skepticism

—–

This week as I frantically filed papers and straightened my office I came to the stark realization that if I didn’t go on vacation or take trips, my office would quickly resemble something shy of hoarders. You see, before vacation I take to cleaning pretty much everything…my home…my office…my car….its nice to come back to everything in order….like coming home to something special or new.

My desk nicely cleaned off….

I quickly set to the next task of packing….

This being my least favorite part of time away….next to the airport.

I’m not an overpacker per say….but by the time I get my 5 days worth of clothing pulled together….my suitcase is well on its way from a light carryon to an overstuffed, checked bag with one of those bright orange “heavy” or “overweight” tags on it.

No matter how much I pare down my bag for the journey….

When I get to my destination it somehow always borders on the absurd when I open it up.

Why on earth did I bring a sweatshirt to Massachusetts in the dead of the summer?
Just in case.

Or end up with 10 pairs of socks for a 3 day trip?
Just in case.

Or endless craft projects “to do on the airplane”, when I always just sleep?
Just in case.

—–

What we are reminded of in today’s gospel…

is that God is supposed to be our……..“Just in case.”

God becomes all the disciples need, in order for them to be on their way,

And for us today…..challenged to spread the Good News by what we say, and do, and how we live our life…it should be EVEN easier than it was for the disciples

….for our faith has been strengthened and solidified in the faithfulness of God made known to us through Jesus

the king born in a barn…..

the carpenter turned messiah……

the crucified and risen…..

If we are to truly understand our calling as disciples….. HE becomes all we need for our journey ahead…our journey as Easter people….our journey as Christians.

The disciples had faith……and yet when they are called to surrender their lives, they did….and they did so without having the benefit of knowing the resurrected Christ, and yet they went on their way two by two regardless.

Part of the journey of discipleship, is not getting it right or perfect ALL the time…the disciples knew the road wouldn’t be smooth…and the hospitality wouldn’t be overflowing…..but they still responded out of faithfulness.

The Gospel message is not about getting it right all the time…..or being perfect……(though sometimes we may think it is).

In reality the Gospel message is about our faithfulness….

And at the end of the day that is all that is asked of us…

It’s about how we respond to the call…to the challenge…to our commissioning.

It’s about learning about ourselves….

paying attention to when we resist….

when we question….

when we are uncomfortable…

When that spiritual director…told me to sell everything….I got so defensive and so upset….and it triggered something in me that made me feel sick inside….partly because I knew she was right…

I knew what scripture said…

i knew the theology…

I knew what it meant to be a follower of Christ…

but I was so connected to my stuff that I couldn’t help but react….

From that moment…I have never packed for anything without questioning what I am bringing with me….

From the easier questions like….
What baggage are you taking on this vacation that can be left behind???

To the more difficult questions….
On this journey of life….what is making your sack heavier than it needs to be???
How often do you rely on faith, and LET Jesus, be your “just in case”???

Don’t let me fool you by any means….i still get one of those bright orange “heavy” tags every once in awhile… but what I can tell you is that….I think twice with every single thing that goes in my bag….

The good news is that we don’t need to be perfect….just faithful.

And that is what we are invited to remember…..but more importantly LIVE into today…..

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Together We Shall Overcome (The Rev. Eric Hinds)

This past week we watched several major stories weave their way through our consciousness. The tragic events of South Carolina were brought into sharper focus and context this week with the delivery of President Obama’s eulogy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown. We also had a landmark decision delivered by The United States Supreme Court affirming that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law applies to same-sex marriage; And yesterday, in Salt Lake City Utah, where the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is underway, the House of Bishops elected, with the House of Deputies confirming, The Right Reverend Michael Curry, Diocesan Bishop of N. Carolina, to serve as the Presiding bishop of our church for the next nine years. Bishop Curry will be the first African American to serve our denomination in the role of Presiding Bishop.

In the midst of these headlines there was story the for the most part slipped in under the radar. It was the press release of a personal letter written 17 years ago from Coretta Scott King to Dennis and Judy Shepard. In the year 1998, the death of the Shepard’s son Matthew, who was a student at the University of Wyoming, made National News not just because of the brutality of the beating that led to Matthew’s death, but because the severity of the attack was directly related to the assailants learning that Matthew was gay.

The letter from Coretta Scott King to Matthew’s parents reads as follows:

Dear Mr. and Mrs Shepard,

I was stunned and deeply saddened to learn of the killing of your beloved son Matthew Shepard. On behalf of Dexter Scott King, The King Center, and the King Center family, I send our heartfelt condolences, our love and prayers to your family in your hour of bereavement. 

Clearly, your Matthew was a fine young man, a kind and open-hearted person who believed in human rights and the dignity of all people. The outpouring of sympathy from his many friends, as well as his family, is a testament that he was a caring and much loved human being, and his loss diminishes us all.

The epidemic brutality that took your son’s life and has caused so much pain to your family must be confronted and stopped. Americans of conscience must work a lot harder to eliminate this sick culture of violence that threatens even our best and our brightest.

Matthew Shepard will be sorely missed. But we will be praying that your family will soon be unburdened by the knowledge that his beautiful spirit will live on in the hearts of all those he touched.

Sincerely, Coretta Scott King.

One of the things notable about Coretta Scott King’s letter is her obvious empathy for both the Shepard family’s pain and for the struggles faced by all members of the larger Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. It is a courageous letter because there was at time when considerable pressure existed, within a part of the Civil Rights community, not to acknowledge the pain and suffering within the gay rights movement as being on a par with the struggle for racial equality. And what Coretta King acknowledged was that ignorance and prejudice that results in the infliction of pain and injustice anywhere, no matter what the source, threatens to diminish the fabric of our Society and the quality of life everywhere. And so Coretta King’s letter of 17 years ago gives us insight and adds depth to the varied stories behind two of the notable symbols that have marked this week past—the confederate flag and the rainbow flag.

One can not help but notice that our 150th anniversary celebration of the establishment of St. Matthew’s as a parish—also marks 150 years since the end of the Civil War. 150 years since the end of the Civil War is the principle fact that makes the shooting and death of 9 members of a noted African American Church in Charleston so painful. For aside from the tragic loss of life, the shooting reminds us that issues of race and racism still haunt our nation, despite the fervent prayers of many to the contrary.

Perhaps we are simply naive in our expectation that seven generations would be enough time for the wounds inflicted by the brutal institution of slavery to end. Or Perhaps we have been blind to the power of the structures, symbols and language of oppression that still exist: De facto segregation, racial profiling an unequal prison system, and other factors that work to undermine the proposition that: Black Lives—do indeed—Matter.

In his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, President Obama made reference to a persistent symbol of oppression when he noted that ‘…we all have to acknowledge [that] the (Confederate) flag has always represented more than ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.” And then our President added to Governor Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the states capital by observing that:

Removing the flag from this states capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.

It would be one step in an honest accounting of Americas history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.

And the President concluded his thoughts by proclaiming that:

By taking down that flag, we express Gods grace.

The important principle for us to wrestle with—what I think lies behind the Presidents words—is that leaders, and those who are in power, bear an added obligation to work to eliminate and remove barriers that are placed in the path of those seeking recognition healing and justice.

At first glance, it might appear that this morning Gospel, a passage that sets out to tell the story of the Healing of Jairus’s daughter, has little to do with the events of this past week. If you listen carefully there were actually two stories within the gospel passage: the story of the women suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years is kind of sandwiched into the middle of the other story. And at first you may think How strange that this woman with hemorrhages who suddenly appears in the crowd. And you might say 12 years—how awful—-but you do not know the half of it. As an observant Jew in the time of Jesus the woman’s life would have been further constrained by the laws of Moses

Leviticus Chapter 15 lays out that: When a woman has a discharge of blood she shall be in her impure for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean. The law further states that: Everything upon which she lies or sits during her impurity shall be unclean… And whoever touches her bed shall must wash their clothes, and be unclean until the evening.

Effectively the purity law that applied to the hemorrhaging woman would have condemned her to 12 years of strict social isolation. Cast in that light—it is amazing that this woman, who we are told had endured so much, even makes it to a public place to come into contact with Jesus. By itself, the healing of the hemorrhaging woman is remarkable, yet perhaps even more notable is that Jesus is primarily interested in the plight and the humanity of the woman—more than he is in the dogma & social structures that have effectively shut her out of the community for half her life. On that day, in one breathtaking encounter with a hemorrhaging woman, Jesus began to change the whole notion of who was acceptable before God—and worthy of healing and wholeness.

It has ever been the work of the church to continue to engage in that conversation—asking if there are any groups within the people of God who bear the burden of less than full acceptance for reasons that cease to match our current understanding of our common human condition. With regard to sexual orientation and identity our denomination by different means has reached a conclusion similar to that upheld by the Supreme Court. It was Justice Kennedy who explained:

the Constitution’s power and endurance rest in the Constitution’s ability to evolve along with the nation’s consciousness. In that service, Kennedy said, the court itself has recognized that new insights and social understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged. 

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, it is our vocation to take notice and to challenge the status quo and address inequality in the world around us. You many not be familiar with the writings or sermons of our New Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, but I want to conclude with the thoughts of another African Anglican Leader. Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered these thoughts in the year 1991. He related this short Vignette:

At home in South Africa, I have sometimes said in big meetings, where you have black and white together: “Raise your hands!” Then I’ve said, “Move your hands,” and I’ve said “look at your hands—different colors representing different people. You are the rainbow people of God.” And you remember the rainbow in the Bible is the sign of peace. the rainbow is the sign of prosperity. We want peace, [We want]prosperity, And [We want] justice—-And we can have it when all the people of God, the rainbow people of God, work together. 

Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost on 28 June 2015, Year B. Lessons: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43.

Santas Point to Christmas (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

One Saturday morning, two weeks ago, I was walking in downtown San Francisco. As I looked about I noticed One—then two—then three individuals—ordinary people—dressed in santa suits, walking along the sidewalk. It seemed a little strange, but before I could dismiss the sightings as some kind of fluke convergence—I in quick order noticed santas number 5, 6, 7, & 8, and then I noticed that all the santas seemed to be walking in the same direction. As I moved closer to the shopping district the concentration of santas increased so much so that, if one had a bird’s eye view from high above the city, it would look like there were many small rivers of red swelling and flowing into a huge reservoir of santas that were spilling out of Union Square. There were traditional older santas—but many more younger santas. There were black and oriental santas. There were women santas in stylish suits. santas wearing sunglasses, santas in bars, and random santas giving out gifts.

I eventually discovered that I had stumbled upon individuals intent upon participating in Santa-con—a combination pub crawl, fashion event and flash mob—where the common denominator seemed to be individuals sharing in the joy of donning santa outfits and assuming the persona of the world’s most well known gift giver.

At one level, Santa-con seems like a distant cousin 3 times removed from our gathering this evening. Yet one could make the case that the San Francisco sea of santas are removed from the story of the nativity by only two degrees of separation. One step closer to the nativity story is St. Nicholas. As you know there is a close connection between Santa and St. Nicholas. Nicholas is of course the older figure. A bishop of the church dating from the fourth century from the region of Myra—located in present day Turkey.

We know only a little about Nicholas. We assume that others saw him as a holy man—since he was a priest and then became bishop. He was known for his love of children and to mark his love for the Christ child at christmas he gave gifts. And in giving those gifts Nicholas affirmed that there was something of the nature of Christ in every child. Most stories about Nicholas affirm the bishop’s goodness and generosity and it is not difficult to imagine Nicholas leaving gifts on Christmas eve in secret, outside doors, and dropped trough windows or chimneys for some of the poorest children in his area.

It is interesting that the stories about Nicholas arise around the same time that Christians first became a feast—when people first began to take notice and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Perhaps we can see this period as the first degree of separation from the nativity story. With Nicholas and the fourth century we see the beginnings of many rich and varied celebrations of Christmas.

Christmas is a holiday wrapped in traditions and many families carefully preserve and hand down their unique Christmas customs. Trimming the tree on Christmas eve with carols playing and a supply of hot chocolate and warm chocolate chip cookies before going to church; or opening a single present before turing into bed on Christmas eve—are two traditions among countless ways that families celebrate the feast of the Nativity. Our family looks forward to gathering around the table for Christmas Dinner and opening our stockings before the first service on Christmas Day. Perhaps no other holiday lends itself to tradition and preserving the practices of childhood and days gone by than our celebration of Christmas.

For all the talk about the crass commercialization of the season devoted to the birth of Jesus most families and individuals find ways to celebrate Christmas with intention and meaning. I suspect that each of you have Christmas memories that evoke a sense of joy and wonder—memories that provide comfort and solace. Those good feelings of Christmases past, provide more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane—they have imbedded within us the knowledge that the event of the birth of the Christ forever changed the world—And those memories affirm that the goodness of God lies at the center of the universe.

I wonder if at some deeper level the phenomenon of people donning santa outfits by the hundreds points to a deep desire to share with others an experience—that at its heart is based upon the peace and joy of the Nativity—an event that so clearly proclaims the generosity of God’s love. The story of Christ’s birth reminds us of our deeper longings—And one reason that we gather this evening is to share an experience of belonging.

In the days of Mary & Joseph Bethlehem was a tiny village, nestled into a mountain top, dwarfed by the magnitude of an empire that ruled all of life. As we travel with Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem we see before our eyes how a backwater, obscure corner of the empire with inadequate lodging—is transformed to the center of the universe where the most important event in the history of the world takes place.

The Nativity scene gives us a strange community of: lowly shepherds, heavenly angels, barn animals, a tired father and mother, and at the center of it all, the newborn Jesus laying in a manger. It is a scene of utter simplicity that captures the fragility and vulnerability of our human existence—It is A reminder that the community that gathered around the manger was an odd gathering that looked nothing like the royal entourage of the emperor—and yet that tiny gathering represents the beginning of the community to which we belong. A community that gathers this evening, bringing our concerns, challenges, worries, and fears—along with our greatest aspirations. We Gather Around our altar as a people learning how to: love unselfishly. Learning how to give and to be a part of something bigger—Accepting God’s call to follow the life of this holy child—and receiving God’s great love and blessing.

Most of the santas that I saw that Saturday seemed pretty happy. And I have no doubt that St. Nicholas was an admirable bishop who did great works. On this night, it is our great joy to continue to discover how God in Christ calls us—works through us, and gathers us to be a people transformed by God’s love and grace—to love and serve the world in which we live.


Christmas sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California at the 9:30pm service on Christmas Eve and at the 10:00am service on Christmas Day. Lessons: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20.

Race Matters: Peace and Justice (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

It has been a tough football season for the Oakland Raiders who have managed only 1 win this season and play the 49ers today. Regular church goers likely missed the Raiders 52 point loss last week as the game had a 10:00am start. But if you watched the news you may have seen a clip taken on that day—from the pre-game player introductions where five of the Raiders opponents—5 Rams players came out of the tunnel from the locker room with their hands up in the air in a gesture that many immediately recognized. In the words of a Boston globe editorial it was a pose that “was both haunting and familiar.” The players imitated the “Hands up, don’t shoot” posture and mantra used by many of the protesters who have gathered in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the grand Jury decision not to indict the white police officer (Darren Wilson) involved in the deadly shooting of Michael Brown who was black.

The mixed reaction to the Rams players protest—highlights the complexity of venturing into the public arena—even if one’s intention is good—to actually succeed in improving dialogue and the effort to promote positive change. For the players part: they live in the St. Louis area, are familiar with the suburb of Ferguson, and know something about how a black person can be treated differently across much of our society. On the other hand it is clear that the conflicting interpretations of how the events unfolded in Furgenson are rooted in experiences of race that differ greatly—and lead to very different conclusions.

The events are further complicated by the fact that any case that rises to national prominence is complicated by the fact that the exact circumstances—rarely provide a perfect, unambiguous, case study. And so it is difficult to build trust, and move a conversation constructively forward where there are basic differences over facts and perceived motivations.

I am often frustrated by how difficult it seems for us—as a community and as a country to enter into any meaningful dialogue about race that has the potential to heal wounds and build bridges to a better future. I gained an insight into just how difficult it is to judge matters concerning race one day almost 20 years ago when I went out to lunch with a newly ordained clergy colleague. John Thompson Quartey graduated from General Seminary in NYC four years after me. I first met John when he served as Seminarian at the parish where I was the assistant. John’s family came to the United States from Ghana and John grew up in the city of Newark. I was one of John’s sponsors at his ordination to the priesthood and he was one of the few black clergy in the Diocese of Newark.

On that day we had lunch, I traveled to Ridgewood, NJ to meet him. Together we walked to a middle eastern restaurant and from the moment that we were seated—I could see that John was becoming increasingly agitated. We had barely sat down and he abruptly called the waiter over, and from my perspective, uncharacteristically used a rude manner to send him away to go get

some pita and hummus—“and bring it right away” John added. While John was still fuming he mumbled that “he better not charge me for this.” This was so unlike my experience of John that I asked him what was wrong. John went on to describe that when he came here last time as someone else’s guest—they were seated, welcomed, and were promptly provided with pita and hummus on the house. And it was in that instance that I realized—what I would have dismissed as simply inconsistent service, a difference in the temperament and capabilities of the wait staff—John interpreted as being intentionally slighted on the basis of his race; And I suddenly realized how difficult it must for a person of color to discern those cases where a lower level of treatment and courtesy is intentional and rooted in prejudice—from those instances where the situation is simply a case of general indifference and incompetence—measured out equally regardless of gender, race or any other difference. During my lifetime I have observed many cases of obvious prejudice; but with John I reached a new level of awareness as to just how pernicious and destructive are the effects of racism.

On this second Sunday of Advent we encounter John the Baptist calling people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. It is interesting to note that John is speaking broadly to religious people. To a people well acquainted with the law. Who know how they are supposed to act and treat others. They knew the requirement to care for widows and orphans. The laws to treat others fairly, the law to welcome the stranger—a law that is written with the admonition “for remember the people of Israel were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” And yet in the time of John the Baptist there were significant divisions between the religious factions within Judaism. Divisions between Jews, Samaritans and foreigners. Divisions that spoke of prejudice. Actions that worked to deny the full humanity of groups defined as other. And so we can note that our modern struggles with race and differences have been with us for a long time.

One could argue that the first two significant and tangible actions taken by the Episcopal Church to make progress in the area of race reconciliation took place in 1794 and 1795. Those are the years when Absalom Jones and his African American church in Philadelphia were admitted as a congregation to the Episcopal Church (1794), followed by Jones’s ordination as a Deacon in our Church in (1795). Ten years later, in the year 1805 Absalom Jones became the first black priest of our church. In the first year of his ministry his parish—St. Thomas Church grew to over 500 members. In his preaching Jones denounced slavery and worked on behalf of the oppressed and distressed. The inclusion and witness of Absalom Jones within our own tradition reminds us of the important role that our Church can accomplish in our day—not merely as a voice of reconciliation, but also as an engaged community active and dedicated towards advancing the recognition and full inclusion of all people in our society.

Meaningful contact and the establishment of relationships that cut across racial divides is an important aspect of promoting racial harmony. And In most parts of our country free and open conversations about race are hindered by a lack of proximity and contact between different racial groups. One does not have to travel far to notice rather significant divisions that occur simply as a result of geography and economic class. Some of you are lucky to work in places that are well integrated, where healthy contact and interchange across race occurs on a daily basis. But for many of us simple geography, and even our own traditions, work to separate us from one another. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who ironically observed that “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

I suspect that the actions of the five St. Louis Rams players were motivated by a desire

to demonstrate empathy not just for the family that lost a son—but for those who feel frustrated and to some extent excluded from the larger society. This morning I would like to open a conversation and mention three tangible things that our congregation might consider doing to promote and advance racial reconciliation.

The first is the possibility of participating in one of the six week reading and reflection groups that are being organized by The Urban Peace Collaboration within our Diocese this upcoming January and February. The Urban Peace Collaboration has selected the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander as a starting point for discussions about where we are with regard to race by looking through the prism of our criminal Justice system. These discussion groups would represent an intentional effort for all involved to arrive at a deeper level of appreciation and understanding of a complex and disturbing issue.

The second event and conversation that you might consider, is participating in all or part of the three day conference sponsored by Trinity Church Wall Street titled “Creating Common Good.” The Trinity Institute Conference takes place January 22nd-24th and features: Princeton Professor Cornel West, Barbara Ehrenreich [pronounced—Erin-reick] (Author of nickel & Dimed), Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. As a Diocese and Parish within the Episcopal Church, we have the possibility of participating remotely in this conference dedicated to social justice—and addressing the issues surrounding pervasive and chronic economic inequality. The conference hopes to provide practical tools for communities to make tangible economic changes.

The third possibility for action is to reach out within our own diocese and to participate with me in the yearly Absalom Jones Celebration Service. This year St. Cyprian’s church in San Francisco will be hosting the service on Saturday February 9th at 11:00am. The preacher will be The Rev. Dr. Kwasi Thornell, who served as National president of The Union of Black Episcopalians with Bishop Marc Andrus celebrating. This service has the potential to bring together people separated by the hour on Sundays mentioned by Dr. King

In surveying the news of the past few weeks perhaps you have often felt the crushing weight of problems that feel like they will never be solved—and the hopelessness of simply being a spectator. I wonder if John the Baptist had those same feelings? If he did, John got over them when he went out into the world and announced that a time of change was coming—and urged people to take action.

I can think of no better way to conclude this collection of thoughts this morning than to read the collect assigned for the feast day of Absalom Jones. Let us Pray: Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 7 December 2014, The Second Sunday of Advent, Year B. Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:18.

Beauty & Holiness—Hidden in Plain Sight (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

A fairly nondescript white man in jeans, with a long-sleeved T shirt and a Washington National’s baseball cap, emerged from the Metro station at L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington D.C. and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. From a small case he removed a violin. The man placed the open violin case at his feet, and at 7:51am, on a Friday in January, in the middle of rush hour, he began to play. Over the next 43 minutes the 39 year old violinist played six classical pieces while a total of 1,097 people passed by. Perhaps you have encountered a similar situation, coming upon a street musician—and with a small sample of music you have the unexpected opportunity to decide if you will linger and listen—or move on and continue with your routine—to attend to the task or journey at hand.

The situation of encountering a street violinist—forcing an unexpected decision—stands in dramatic contrast to the laser focus of the Israelites—who as we encounter them this morning were thirsty voicing incessant complaints—demanding that Moses provide them with water in the midst of their suffering. In the midst of the desert their thirst is all consuming, and they blame Moses for their aguish.

When we read this story we intuitively know it to be true. We know how we are prone to complain when things go wrong and do not go as according to plan. Physical pain or discomfort is perhaps the most debilitating, but we can add all sorts of unpleasant circumstances including psychological or emotional discomfort to the list of things that create circumstances which can serve to blind us to all else. This fact is brought into sharp focus this morning when we consider that the people of Israel are actually looking back longingly at their days of captivity in the land of Egypt. We see in this passage how the magnitude of suffering caused by widespread thirst has obliterated from memory the great saving deeds of God that lead to their escape from slavery and a life of oppression.

One of the gifts of being a part of a religious tradition with deep roots is the way our life of faith can orientate us to the world in a way where we are open to experience the beauty, grace, and blessing of God in our everyday life. When one mentions Christian prayer—the image conjured is often that of a person cloistered, narrowly focused upon God in a way that is as solitary as it is silent. This image is the opposite of the deep strand within our tradition that holds that the purpose of prayer is to open ourselves to the possibility and presence of God in every aspect of our life. Time set aside for prayer goes hand in hand with the notion that we will not discover—that which we are not on the alert for or open too.

The Irish author, John O’Donohue, has written extensively about prayer and our deepest desire

to draw closer to God—our desiree to draw closer to the beauty and wonder of God’s created world. He writes

There is a quite light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there.   It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing.

O’ Donohue also observes that: To participate in beauty is to come into the presence of the Holy.God is a pure verb, a permanent event, an eternal surge, a total quickening. The ancient wisdom of the Psalmist also captures this notion that our deepest longings seek for affirmations of the goodness of God. Psalm 63 begins

Oh God, you are my God: eagerly I seek you,* my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,

as in a barren and dry land where there is no water 

Of the almost 1,100 people who passed through the D.C. Metro Station, a mere 27 individuals contributed coins and bills that totaled $32. Only 7 individuals stopped to listen to the world renowned Joshua Bell, who played upon his almost 300 year old Stradivarius violin. The experiment of a concert violinist playing in an unexpected public place was conceived, executed and reported by staff at The Washington Post—and the event highlights the notion that while the human soul may well thirst for many things—left to ourselves we are prone to overlook even examples of sublime beauty—in our very midst.

This morning’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus interacted with the world with a profound sense of the deep potential of every human being. And that even the lot of notorious sinners of his day, tax collectors and prostitutes, reflected something of divine goodness, and merited a response and treatment better than only contempt, dismissal and scorn. Far from being merely a set of beliefs to follow and adhere to—Jesus demonstrated and lived a faith that shows that at it’s heart Christianity is a way to Be and to Experience the world

From the early centuries Christian mystics have exhorted believers to slow down—to pause, and to be still. To watch and to listen. For he goodness of God is all around—it is at the very heart of creation. To be discovered like water gushing forth in the desert. There to be experienced, to revive and to refresh one’s soul.imgres.jpg Joshua Bell

Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 28 September 2014, Year A. Lessons: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4,12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32.

You can see the you tube video of Joshua Bell here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZeSZFYCNRw